The opinion of the court was delivered by: MAURICE B. COHILL, JR.
This case is before us on appeal from a final decision by the defendant, Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary), denying plaintiff-claimant Diane Manning's claim for Social Security disability benefits. Plaintiff contests the denial of her claim. The parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons set forth below, we will deny both motions and remand to the Secretary for further proceedings to determine whether Ms. Manning can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity.
Plaintiff Diane Manning was born on October 17, 1949. She is a high school graduate with some college-level courses. She was given on-the-job training by her last employer, Bethesda Children's Services, a Meadville adolescent treatment facility, where she worked as a counsellor. Ms. Manning was previously employed as a telephone solicitor for an insulation company. She is divorced and has three children living at home. She testified that she left Bethesda because anxiety attacks and depression interfered with her job. R. 39.
The standard of review used by this court in reviewing the decision of the Secretary in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Additionally, the Secretary's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979).
To be eligible for social security disability benefits, a plaintiff must demonstrate an inability to engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).
To facilitate the disability determination, the Secretary promulgated a five-step sequential analysis for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) to use when evaluating the disabled status of a claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Jones v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1991). The ALJ must determine (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., app. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent her performing past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing her past relevant work, whether she can perform any other work that exists in the national economy, in light of her age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that she is unable to return to her previous employment. Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Secretary to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity. Id.
Applying the first steps of the required analysis, the ALJ determined that Ms. Manning had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since applying for benefits, and that "medical evidence establishes that the claimant is severely impaired by a personality disorder and hypertension." R. 22. This finding satisfied the claimant's burden of proof. The ALJ further found that Ms. Manning was unable to perform her past relevant work, but that her impairments did not meet the criteria required by 20 C.F.R. 416. R.22.
The Secretary then had the burden of proving that the claimant was able to perform another job in the national economy in light of her medically proven impairment, age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity. Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. The ALJ found that Ms. Manning was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act because she retained the residual functional capacity to engage in substantial gainful activity. R. 22. Our review of the record persuades us that the ALJ lacked substantial evidence for this decision.
The plaintiff was examined by Michael Mercatoris, Ph.D., on January 27, 1992. R. 159-65. His report was the primary medical evidence used by the ALJ to decide that Ms. Manning was severely impaired. Dr. Mercatoris concluded that claimant had a personality disorder, but failed to make any finding as to her ability to work. Under 20 C.F.R. § 416.919n(c)(6), a complete consultative examination should include findings regarding the claimant's ability to understand, carry out, and remember instructions, and to respond to supervision, co-workers, and work pressures. Dr. Mercatoris failed to address these issues. Where the medical documentation is unclear or insufficient, it is incumbent upon the Secretary to obtain any additional evidence needed to make a sound determination. Ferguson v. Schweiker, 765 F.2d 31 (3d Cir. 1985). We agree with the claimant that the ALJ improperly refused to order an additional psychological consultative examination or a referral back to Dr. Mercatoris for findings as to Ms. Manning's ability to work on a regular and continuing basis. Counsel's requests for such at the administrative hearing, and at the Appeals Council, were denied. Dr. Mercatoris' failure to address the crucial issue of work-related ...